10. The Boys in the Band (Netflix)
A remake of the 70s film that changed the face of gay men as they are portrayed on television, The Boys in the Band captures the chemistry between the revival’s cast members with ease. Importantly reintroduced, the story of these men continues to shed light on the plights of gay men from various backgrounds. Themes of self-hatred, discrimination, and projection permeate throughout a singular night at one location. It further proves the prolific nature of the original script, with dialogue so compelling viewers will forget that they haven’t left the apartment for the entire film.
9. Shithouse (IFC Films)
Hyper-real and decidedly uncomfortable, Shithouse depicts an authentic portrayal of coming of age in college. It looks at two periods of time, both at the beginning and end of college as it follows freshman Alex leaving the safety of his nest and learning about the complexities of social life. Touching upon themes of privilege, sexuality, and the politics of being a college kid at any university, the film is an often surprising look at the non-glamorous side of the glorified years of one’s life.
8. Palm Springs (Hulu)
Films using the Groundhog Day plot device have become extremely oversaturated in the industry. Palm Springs uses it just uniquely enough to forgive yet another iteration of the endless loop of time. Starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Millioti, the duo becomes trapped in a love story with enough twists, turns, and comedy gold to keep viewers interested throughout.
7. The High Note (Focus Features)
The High Note is a bright, simple, well executed romantic comedy disguised within the contemporary music industry. Tracee Ellis Ross is underutilized as an aging diva, but Dakota Johnson is the true star of the show. Comfortable in a role of a young professional living in today’s Los Angeles, her calm candor throughout drives a breezy film that is a perfect escapist tale for a year of burdensome news.
6. Tenet (Warner Bros.)
Mind-numbing, loud, and often frustrating, Tenet is a Christopher Nolan film. It was one of the few action films to hit theaters this year. Taken at face value, its a thrilling action adventure that pushes the boundaries of action sequences Nolan has already established himself for pulling off. If the plot’s convolution is too much for viewers, they can revel in the stunning imagery throughout this time traveling thriller.
5. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Amazon Prime Video)
Sacha Baron Cohen keeps himself busy. Whether it be through his slapstick satire in his many series and films like Bruno and The Dictator, or through more serious criticism in Who is America?, his commitment to character and exposing truths in American culture remain as chilling as they are hilarious. With Borat, Cohen was tasked at subverting a now widely known caricature while maintaining the authentic tone of the original film. While it doesn’t quite do so, its no less hilarious or explosive as the original.
4. Time (Amazon Prime Video)
Time is an excellent case study in the explorations of ongoing systemic injustices in today’s America. It takes the discussions at the forefront of news cycles this summer and further contextualizes decades of abuse and oppression plagued by POCs living in the nation. The film follows Fox Rich, a woman seeking to get her husband, Rob, released from a 60-year prison sentence in the Louisiana State Penitentiary for bank robbery. Combining home videos with new original footage, Time is a delicate depiction of a remarkable woman with the determination and drive to move forward against countless, horribly unfair odds.
3. The Sound of Metal (Amazon Prime Video)
What happens when the commitment to one’s life purpose is abruptly cut short by an obstacle or disability? This question is explored in the gritty drama The Sound of Metal. A theme anyone this year can relate to, the film is an unflinching look at a struggling drummer dealing with a consistent loss of hearing. Featuring a dazzling performance from Riz Ahmed, The Sound of Metal was the hidden gem of this year.
2. Lover’s Rock (Amazon Prime Video)
A slight film that drops viewers into a single night in West London, Lover’s Rock is a celebratory glimpse into the lives it centers on. Two lovers gather with their respective friends and community at a reggae party in the 80s. The film is deeply immersive, acting often as a fly on the wall only to reveal the joys and glowing personalities of the characters in the film. Above all else, it’s a necessary ode to love.
1. Soul (Disney Pixar)
A beautiful, hopeful message to close out a harrowing 2020, Soul is easily the strongest film of the year. If 2020 was decidedly slight on the “blockbuster,” it perhaps beckons filmmakers to think about the kind of content they want to display, and how to distribute it, in coming years. With Soul, though it would’ve been a marvel to witness in the theaters, its impact is no less profound from a viewing at home.